Director Cary Fukunaga takes a modern approach to Bronte’s most famous novel, exaggerating the Gothic elements and providing Mia Wasikowska with every opportunity stretch herself in the title role and prove her acting skills.
Following a brief introduction we are transported back to Jane’s childhood which makes the upbringings depicted by Dicken’s seem like a holiday camp. The church kindly taking on the problem child when her guardian finds her tiresome, then systematically mentally dismantling her, advising all other children to shun her and “withhold the hand of friendship”, all in the name of pious religion and protecting her from the fires of hell, of course.
Forward to her “release” Jane is fortunate to find gainful employment as a governess in a large isolated house, Thornfield Hall, surrounded by cold desolate moors, only lightened by a well intentioned house keeper (Judi Dench). Jane’s ward, a young french girl, according to her guardian has neither looks or intelligence sufficient to gain a husband, occupies her time. The guardian Edward Fairfax Rochester (Michael Fassbender) arrives months later by horseback, Jane failing to make a good first impression on her employer whilst out walking, causing the horse to rear and him to fall.
The gruff but good hearted master of the house is starved of intelligent conversation, he engages in an enjoyable spar of wits and opinions with his governess, intrigued and amused at her obvious intelligence and firmly held views of her own. Isolated house, enigmatic master, pretty governess, albeit made to look dowdy, repressed Victorian social mores, what do you think is likely to happen?
The film plays with timelines jumping forward and back with Jane’s later flight into the kindly arms of the local young minister (Jamie Bell) and his twin sisters. Jane, seeking refuge, following an event at Thornfield Hall is nursed back into, if not polite society but at least isolated, school mistress, muddy and wet society.
The film manages to create a real feeling of isolation, repressed desires, things left unsaid and frankly odd behaviour, usually originating from Rochester, who clearly has issues to work though, although all will be revealed.
Wasikowska makes for a very believable Jane, investing her with enough reality and naievity to become a real person we recognize but infusing her with a steel backbone, this is a woman that can and will cope with anything, in this story that’s just as well. Jane knows what she wants and does not believe her demands as a woman to live a life of her choosing, to be loved and not subject to violence and cruelty to be unrealistic. Opinions that would have been contentious at the time of the original novel’s publication in 1847.
Fassbender continues to impress, Dench provides solid support and Bell does a reasonable job in a difficult and seemingly thankless role. Thornfield House is a character in itself, darkly lit, creaking and exuding menace and secrets from every joist.
The end does appear somewhat rushed, the resolution to some of Jane’s woes convenient and these elements may not provide the required redemption for those not familiar with the book.
Overall a solid effort with engaging acting especially from Wasikowska, trailers might indicate this to be more of a gothic horror which is misleading and might discourage some. There is little to fear for those of a sensitive disposition.
A classic story told in a refreshing way, Jane Eyre rebooted perhaps and might inspire yet more readers to discover this classic in page form.